LOGISTICAL SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Iraq, March 29, 2007 - Soldiers with the 249th Engineer Battalion from Fort Bragg, N.C., handle a very dangerous job repairing the electrical configuration on base.

By following safety procedures every time the unit works with very high voltage electrical power lines, they are able to do the configuration, operation, and maintenance of much of the base with only a seven-man team.

There are two plants here, said Sgt. 1st Class John E. Huber, from Louisville, Ky. the site noncommissioned officer-in-charge for Logistical Support Area Anaconda with the 1st Detachment, 249th Engineer Battalion, Prime Power.

The Milcon plant, which is owned by the government, distributes power to both underground and overhead developments. The overhead development is soon to be energized. He said the other plant is Prime Power, which is mainly used for peak power usage during the summer months.

Base power meetings are held each week with the servicemembers and civilians to discuss any issues on post to make the electrical distribution better, he said. Discussions at the meetings include needed improvements, scheduled services, and future upgrade designs.

"In the summe time when the electricity usage is very high, and the main plant can't handle it all, we bring our plant on to take some of the load off," Huber said.

Huber said with approximately 38,000 volts, the prime power plant is capable of backing up various housing areas and buildings in case of power outages.

The "Prime Power" unit is unique because whenever a war begins, they are the first ones on ground to begin the electrical configurations and remain there until the very end of the war, he said.

"At Logistical Support Area Anaconda, we ended up using the existing grid that was already here on base," Huber said. "Currently, the cables that are in the ground may date back to the 1980s. We've spliced into the cables so many times that there's always that chance that they (cables) could fault out."

Even though the grid is outdated, the engineers are still able to use the existing substations that were here before the unit arrived. A substation is the area located around the base that steps the power down to levels used in offices and trailers, he said.

Over the years, those substations have been overloaded because they were not built for the type of loads they are running on now.

Due to these overloads, servicemembers are asked to do their part by conserving energy.

"When you leave your trailers to go to work, don't leave your air conditioner on," Huber said. "It's the air conditioners that draw the most power, and also turn all of your lights off."

One big danger is for people going into the low-voltage power boxes located around post when there's a power outage, because the power could be getting turned back on soon.

"Someone could get killed," said Staff Sgt. Craig Daniel, the senior power plant operator from Worcester, Mass., as he expressed his concern of people opening the power boxes.

Even though the overhead power lines are not energized at this time, everybody should keep in mind that they will be soon, and be careful, Huber said.

In December, four of the main feeders were cut, which caused a grid to be lost for almost a whole day. Some of the housing areas have had feeders get cut, too, he said.

"It's cheaper to install over ground than underground wires," Huber said. "In the states, people prefer underground because it looks better. Here, since there is so much expansion to the base, people are constantly digging, trying to put up new facilities, which is so much easier to have wires overhead because they won't accidentally cut them by digging, and because trouble-shooting wise, it's so much easier to see something than to try and guess where a fault is underground," he said.

"We are in the middle of the desert," Huber said. "The insulators are exposed to dirt, and that dust gets blown up onto the equipment. The cables attached to the switchgear get caught up and causes tracking."

He added "When a cable comes into the circuit breaker, they need to be separated from each other, because they contain separate phases of power. But, when dust accumulates between the two phases, electricity tends to track over to the other phase which will cause a fault."

He said the collected dirt allows volts of energy to jump causing sparks that will cause a fault. Therefore, the equipment needs to be cleaned periodically to reduce the amount of faults.

On a typical day, there could be three or four projects going on at any time, Daniel explained. Crews may go out to take on the various projects, which could be for 24-hours, depending on the severity of the power outage.

"The main cause for power outages is the dust that accumulates on the insulators," Daniel said. "Due to the high voltage of electricity, it could arc (jump) over because they are supposed to be kept clean."

If a line gets cut, depending on where it is cut, it could play a major role in the amount of time it takes for the power to be restored.

Powering Logistical Support Area Anaconda is very significant. "We have a lot of units here who are very critical and need their power, and most of them have back up," Huber said.

Recently, Sgt. Jonathan A. Bridgers, a power station electrician from Piscataway N.J., designed the power grid for Camp Besimaya, near Butler Range based off his electrical assessments.

Bridgers said he had to determine if a plant was needed to be set up there, what size generators to install to carry the load, and what size cables were needed to distribute to approximately 15 buildings.

"It was a great learning experience for me," Bridgers said. "I acquired so much knowledge from Company B back at Fort Bragg and from my senior enlisted (noncomissioned officers)."

Huber said there will be scheduled power outages starting in April that will last until May. This will be a high priority project for Prime Power because the summer loads are going to increase, and arcing is already causing problems at the main power plant due to the dust.

He said the soldiers must go in to each substation and clean the equipment thoroughly. Another high priority project is to get the prime power plant up and running this summer.

Servicemembers and civilians must realize that when the power is off, the 249th Engineer Battalion will be there 24 hours a day to fix any power problems as quickly as possible.

"We are just a small team, and we have a lot on our plate," Huber said.

The battalion also has soldiers supporting Camp Speicher and Q-West, he said. Also, contract officer technical representatives are located at Camp Victory and Al Asad as well to handle various projects.